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In Northern Mali, Youth Feel Left Out of Progress


Children watch pro-government supporters gathering for an election rally in Bamako, Mali.

Children watch pro-government supporters gathering for an election rally in Bamako, Mali.


The West African nation of Mali has experienced major changes since 2012.

The changes have included a military overthrow of the government, a presidential election and a foreign military operation against Islamist rebels in the country’s north.

A peace agreement designed to end the conflict in Mali was reached in 2015. But many young people there feel left out of the promised benefits of peace.

Protest and violence

Recently, demonstrations took place in northern cities such as Gao and Timbuktu. Protesters held signs saying “trop c’est trop” -- the French expression for “enough is enough.” That saying has become the slogan of their movement.

In July, government security forces shot at protesters, killing three and wounding more than 30.

The detention of popular radio personality Mohamed Youssouf Bathily led to more protests. He was arrested for condemning corruption in the government.

Adboulaye Coulibaly Fama took part in the protests. He said that the demonstrations showed the deep dissatisfaction of young people in Mali.

“There are many incidents lately which are a sign of a widespread malaise that characterizes the Malian population,” he said. “He [Bathily] should not have been arrested in the first place. His release…shows a weak government - a government which cannot take responsibility - a government Malian people cannot trust.”

Similarly, a young man from Gao criticized Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. He told VOA Afrique it is a failure of the government that the city of Kidal is still not under their control.

“The state does not want to take responsibility. I really think these three years have been wasted,” the young man added.

Observers believe that the main concerns in Mali are linked to governance and dissatisfaction with the peace agreement.

Kamissa Camara is an expert on politics in West and Central Africa. She works for the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy.

Camara said that the young people in Mali’s North believe they were important during the crisis of 2012, but largely ignored during the peace process.

“They were protecting communities from the rebels, from the jihadists,” she said. “And because they played such a huge role in stabilizing northern Mali, when the government of Mali signed a peace agreement with the rebels, the youth thought or felt that they were being put aside. They were sidelined by the agreement when they should have also been part of the peace benefits.”

There is widespread anger among the youth that the former rebels were promised assistance for disarming and rejoining society. The former rebels received job training and stipends through an internationally-funded process, but non-fighters were largely left out of this process.

Kamissa Camara said the young people are also angry about former rebels being named to leadership positions in Gao.

“The rebels, the people who picked up the arms and raped women in northern Mali defeated the Malian army - killed Malian soldiers - are the ones being rewarded when they, the youth, played a positive role in stabilizing northern Mali and didn’t get the result and didn’t get rewarded for that,” she said.

Years of violence in the north have damaged an already weak economy. The World Bank says youth employment is only at 10.5% in Mali.

“What the youth are looking for is to be reintegrated into the civil service, for example, and to actually get jobs the same way these rebels are being rewarded right now,” Camara said.

Youth joining militant groups

The dissatisfaction among the youth in Mali’s north has led some to join militant groups. The militants offer them pay and a sense of community.

The Al-Qaida-linked group Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad and in West Africa (MUJAO) have repeatedly launched attacks in the north since 2012.

Lori-Anne Theroux-Benoni is a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) based in Dakar, Senegal. She and a research team from ISS prepared a report called “Mali’s Young Jihadist." The report has testimony from 63 young Malians who are a part of extremist groups, including 19 who are in jail. Its aim was to examine the reasons young people join jihadist groups.

The researchers identified 15 factors that lead to youth involvement. Some of the reasons are emotional, historical or political. In addition, some young people are forced to join.

Theroux-Benoni said the popular belief is that youth often join extremist groups because of religion or money. But she says this is not true for many young people.

“For some of the youth that we spoke with, the reason for joining was to protect cattle in the region of Mopti. For other young people, it was really the fact that the groups were actually providing security and rule of law,” she said.

The report also found that there is a link between unemployment and extremism. But that link is not always so clear. One former extremist joined so he could pay for all the costs of getting married. Another said he joined because he was persuaded by jihadist propaganda videos.

“It’s important not to think of the factors as factors that work on their own. Most of the factors actually interact with each other,” Theroux-Benoni said.

I’m Patrick Merentie.

And I'm Alice Bryant.

Salem Solomon reported this story for VOANews.com. Patrick Merentie adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

How about the youth in your country? Are they part of your country’s progress or are they struggling? Write to us in the Comments Section.

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Words in This Story

benefit – n. a good or helpful result or effect

slogan n. a word or phrase that is easy to remember and is used by a group or business to attract attention

malaise n. a problem or condition that harms or weakens a group, society, etc.

characterize n. to describe the character or special qualities of (someone or something)

stipend n. a usually small amount of money that is paid regularly to someone

stabilize v. to stop quickly changing, increasing or getting worse

testimony n. something that someone says especially in court of law while formally promising to tell the truth

factor n. something that someone says especially in a court of law while formally promising to tell the truth

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